June 30: honeybee gardens

2016/06/30 deej 1

It’s the last day of June, the end of #BlogJune for this year. It’s been a challenge to keep up with a post every day, and we haven’t (as originally intended) managed to complete a farm or house task every day, but it’s been fun anyway. Today’s task has been using some of the kumquats I picked on the weekend, making most of them into candied kumquats, and some (along with some limes) into lime-and-kumquat-jelly (not marmalade, as I’ve sieved all but a few decorative strips of zest out of the jam, but basically lime marmalade flavoured – hopefully it sets). There are jars and bottles on the counter, cooling. I’ve also made a giant batch of vegetarian Boston Baked Beans, for a dinner party I’m attending this weekend. The whole house smells delightfully of spices, savoury beans, and citrus.

 

However, that is nto the topic of today’s post. Today I wanted to talk about bees again, and specifically about feeding your bees.

 

Bees consume pollen and nectar from flowering plants; the nectar gives them carbohydrates in the form of sugars, as well as minerals and essential vitamins, and the pollen provides them with protein. Most flowering plants produce nectar, and all produce pollen, but not all of these plants are useful for honeybees searching for food. On top of that, not all flower across the entire year, so if you want to keep your local bees fed it’s important to plant a variety of good bee fodder plants.

 

Bee plants include all sorts of flowers, from groundcovers and herbs to shrubs and trees, so no matter what type of garden you have you’ll be able to plant something for the bees. Here’s a list of some good ones for Perth. We plan to plant (or have already planted) most of these.

 

Casuarina: She-oaks (Casuarina and Allocasuarina species) are evergreen shrubs and trees, with the largest growing up to 35 m in height. They’re noted for the long, segmented branchlets they have which function as leaves. The branchlets (called cladodes) resemble conifer needles, even though she-oaks are flowering plants. The actual leaves are reduced to minute scales encircling each joint of the cladodes. Some she-oaks form symbiotic relationships with nitrogen-fixing soil bacteria, similar to legumes, so they’re a good plant to grow in poor soils. She-oaks don’t provide a lot of nectar, but they are a good pollen source, and as such are very important to bees, especially in spring when beehives are increasing their population.

 

Herbs: Basically all our culinary herbs are also great for bees, and most produce large quantities of both nectar and pollen. The best herbs for bees include thyme (Thymus spp.), oregano (Oreganum vulgare), and any type of sage (Salvia spp.) or mint (Mentha spp.). Borage (Borago officinalis) is also a good one, with beautiful little blue flowers which are very attractive to bees, and the leaves can be used in salads or cocktails for their cucumber-ish flavour.

 

Citrus: All citrus trees produce large quantities of fragrant nectar, which is why they are usually covered in honeybees when they flower. Any citrus tree you plant will be good for honeybees; if you’re not keen on loads of oranges, mandarins or grapefruit, try a lemon or lime tree, or a kumquat or calamondin. Citrus honey is pale in colour and mild flavoured, and is very highly regarded.

 

Lavender (Lavandula spp.): Lavender is a small, fragrant shrub which is highly attractive to bees (and the flowers and leaves can be used in human food too, as a flavouring). Lavender honey can be white to amber in colour and has an intense floral aroma. Lavender can be pruned into a formal box hedge, or left to itself to grow a slightly more uneven shape (which would fit in with a dune-vegetation or cottage style garden). Although it isn’t native, it can be grown with Australian natives and won’t look out of place, with its grey-green foliage.

 

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis): Another fragrant, small shrub, rosemary is a magnet for honeybees – and the savoury flavour of the leaves mean its good for cooking with as well. Rosemary honestly grows like a weed in Perth – it will survive with little to no care, and if you occasionally water it or prune it a bit (for some leaves and sprigs to cook with), it will reward you with a mass of growth and lovely blue (or, depending on the variety, pink, lavender, or white) flowers. Rosemary honey has a slight herbal fragrance and flavour, and goes well with savoury as well as sweet dishes.

 

Grey Box (Eucalyptus microcarpa): Most Eucalyptus species are useful for nectar, but some produce better honey than others. Grey box is one of the best, flowering regularly and producing a richly flavoured honey with malt or caramel tones. It is a slow-growing tree, normally up to 25m in height (sometimes taller), native to south-eastern Australia. The flowers are white and appear from summer to winter. This is a very important honey plant in Victoria, less so in South Australia, New South Wales, and Queensland; it is of minor significance in Western Australia, but will grow here quite happily.

 

Guava (Psidium guajava): A favourite with honeybees, the guava tree’s flowers provide high quantities of both nectar and pollen. Guava honey is runny, and has a mild, pleasant flavour. Guava is a genus of about 100 species of tropical shrubs and small trees. The leaves are opposite, simple, elliptic to ovate, 5-15 cm long. The flowers are white, with five petals and numerous stamens. The fruit is round to pear-shaped, from 3-10 cm in diameter, with a thin rind which may be pale green, yellow, or pink to red, depending on species. The flesh of the fruit is sweet, white or pink-orange in colour with many small hard seeds, and a strong, characteristic aroma.

 

Wattles (Acacia spp.): Most wattles produce masses of pollen and nectar when they flower, and are frequented by any honeybees in their vicinity. Acacia species (both African acacias and Australian wattles) range in size from shrubs through small trees to a few canopy trees in some regions. The flowers are arranged in inflorescences that may be either globular heads or cylindrical spikes. Each inflorescence may comprise three or more individual flowers, up to 130 or more. Acacia species flower throughout the year although most flower during spring and summer rather than during autumn and winter.

 

Roses (Rosa spp.): The humble (or not so humble) rose flowers throughout spring and summer, especially if properly cared for and pruned, and provide a rich source of pollen and some nectar. There are over 100 species of rose, and thousands of cultivars and varieties. They include rambling groundcovers, climbers, and woody shrubs, with flowers ranging from pinks and purples through to reds, oranges, yellows, and white. Many garden roses, in spite of their association with English gardens, are actually very hardy once established, and thrive in Perth’s hot, dry climate and sandy soils.

 

Banana plants (Musa spp.): You didn’t realise that banana plants were a great food source for honeybees as well as humans, did you? They provide large quantities of nectar and pollen, and grow quickly to flowering stage. I don’t have any information on the honey produced, only that it is produced in large quantities and that beehives kept in banana plantations tend to be healthy and well fed.

 

Bottlebrush (Callistemon spp.): I’ve never seen a bottlebrush shrub or tree flowering that didn’t have honeybees gathered on the flowers. They love it. Bottlebrushes range from small shrubs to small trees, and their flowers range from white or pale yellow through pink to dark red. They produce a mild flavoured, smooth tasting honey.

 

Passionfruit (Passiflora edulis): A climbing perennial, passionfruit – or, more accurately, the passionflowers – produce large quantities of both pollen and nectar for honeybees. Passionfruit is a beautiful vine, and will easily give you a green wall if you give it something to climb on. It is evergreen, and flowers twice a year in Perth. The fruit may be yellow or purple on the outside when ripe, with a dark yellow, deliciously sweet-sour pulp and many black seeds inside.

 

This list is far from complete – there are many, many flowering plants which make great food sources for honeybees. Almost all herbs, vegetables, and heirloom variety garden flowers are perfect nectar sources, as are most fruit trees. Apple trees, and stone fruit are very well regarded as bee fodder plants. Old fashioned cottage garden flowers like alyssum, honeysuckle, sunflowers, and daisies of all sorts attract and feed bees, as do many flowering bulbs (daffodils, lily of the valley, ..). Many of the modern ‘potted colour’ flowers that you can buy at nurseries don’t produce much nectar or pollen, putting all their energy into showy flowers instead; flowering trees or shrubs, or heirloom variety vegetables or garden flowers are a better choice.

 

So, to make a long story short, if you want to help the bees, but you don’t want to keep a hive yourself, the most useful thing you can do is plant some flowers. 🙂 Go forth and garden.

 

 

June 29: Peach Palm (Pejibayes)

2016/06/29 deej 0

peach palm with fruitThe peach palm or pejibaye (Bactris gasipeas) is native to the lowland tropics of South and Central America. It was domesticated during the pre-Columbian era by the indigenous peoples of the Americas, and both the fruit and seeds have been used as food since then.

 

The texture of the fruit, raw or cooked, has been compared to a firm sweet potato, and the flavour is similar to squash, buttery potato, or roasted chestnut. Undamaged, raw fruits will keep well, gradually dehydrating, in a low humidity environment with good airflow. Bruised or damaged fruits, however, will ferment in only a few days. Cooked fruit will keep for 5 – 6 days. The fruit can be dried and ground as meal or flour, which can be used as a replacement for cornmeal, or stored as dried chips. It can also be pressed to produce an edible oil.

 

peach palm fruitRaw peach palm fruit contains calcium oxalate crystals, which can be irritating to the mouth and digestive system, so the fruit should be cooked before being consumed. Traditionally, the fruit is often slow cooked for three to five hours in salted water before being eaten, but half an hour or slightly less in a pressure cooker, oven or microwave will dissolve the calcium oxalate crystals, making the fruit safe to eat.

 

Cooked fruit may be deep-fried or roasted and eaten as a snack, or may be used as a stuffing for poultry. It can also be mixed with cornmeal or flour, milk and eggs, and fried to form griddle cakes or pancakes.

 


 

Peach Palm Fritters

 

*Note, as I don’t (yet) have access to any peach palm fruit, I haven’t tested this recipe. I’d love to hear what people think of it, though!

 

¼ cup wholemeal flour

¼ teaspoon baking powder

300 – 400g peach palm fruit, cooked, skinned and de-seeded

1 cup milk

2 eggs

(optional) chopped onion, corn kernels, chopped bacon, chopped herbs

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

 

Instructions

  • Mash the peach palm fruit to a fine puree.
  • Combine all ingredients. Mix to form a loose batter.
  • Add olive oil or butter to a pan and set over medium heat. Drop teaspoonsful of batter into the hot pan and cook until golden brown on both sides.

 


 

Images sourced form Wikimedia Commons:

June 28: tastes of the Blackwood

2016/06/28 deej 0

Last night we attended a Tastes of the Blackwood evening at Taste Budds cooking studio in Highgate, showcasing some of the produce of the Blackwood Ruver region in the South-West of WA. It was brilliant. Gorgeous food, talks from the producers, and a chance to ask questions both about their farms and farming practices and about their produce. The producers represented there were:

 

The food, as expected, was amazing. We started with fresh focacia bread spread with butter and honey (from Southern Forests Honey) and cider from The Cidery & Blackwood Valley Brewing Company. That was followed by grilled lamb (grass-fed dorper lamb from Blackwood Valley Beef), then gnocchi with a pork ragu using chestnut-fed pork from Chestnut Brae, and more melt-in-your-mouth gnocchi in a chestnut cream sauce. We followed that with roast chicken (from Southampton Homestead) with polenta, leeks and kale, and finally grilled tamarillos with custard (made using eggs from The Organic Fine Food Company). There must have been around 30 people there, and everyone cleaned their plates.

 

The food being excellent was no surprise – I have a very high opinion of our local producers, and the Blackwood River region has gorgeous soils and good rainfall. What did surprise us was how casual and friendly it was, how much the farmers appreciated everyone just showing up. This wasn’t an expensive event, and they honestly seemed surprised that they had sold out. The group of producers is a newly formed collective (only about 4 weeks old) of individual producers who want to share information and skills, and help each other out to produce and market the best food they can; I’d say they’re succeeding very well. I’d also suggest that everyone check out these six producers because wow. So much deliciousness in one go.

 

We had no idea going in that the intended audience (and indeed, most of the attendees) were chefs, media, and food industry people. Previously I’ve been to similar events, but only those aimed at the general public, so it was really interesting to see the differences (and similarities) in the kinds of questions asked of the producers. Also interesting for us were some of the lessons learned that the farmers shared, like the dangers of running pigs directly under the trees of the chestnut orchard without putting rings in their noses to stop them digging up the trees, and the conversations about the potential for starting a small or even mobile abattoir for the region. The main reason we aren’t considering commercial meat production ourselves is the difficulty of getting animals to (a) any abattoir, since they’re all quite a long way away from us, and (b) the stress involved for the animals in such a long trip. A mobile abattoir would be perfect.

 

I’d love to see more events like this – I spoke to so many people who would have loved to go if they’d known about it a little sooner. I’d love even more to be able to be involved in them and start contributing – we’re a couple’ve years off having any sort of commercial product quantities, but I’m taking so many notes that even K laughs at me for it. And we’re slowly gathering some potential customers and some market data. It’s exciting, starting to see it all coming together – and last night was really inspiring for us. Soon, the Tastes of Chittering will be a thing too. Soon.

June 27: sourdough muffins

2016/06/27 deej 0

On Friday I made sourdough English muffins for breakfast. It’s such a brilliant recipe (and such a good use for excess sourdough starter) that I thought I’d share it here.

 

Step 1: Combine 1/2 – 1 cup starter, 2 cups plain flour, and 1 cup milk (or whey, or buttermilk) in a bowl. Leave in a warm place overnight.

 

Step 2: Add 1 Tbsp honey, 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda (baking soda), and 3/4 tsp salt to the sourdough mixture. Knead until well combined and no longer super sticky – try to avoid adding more flour, but you can if you need to. Press the dough out to about 1 cm thick, and cut or shape into rounds. Sprinkle with flour and leave for 45 min – 1 hr to prove.

 

Step 3: Cook the rounds in a hot, oiled pan or on a hot, oiled griddle. They should puff up and rise as you cook them.

 

Step 4: Split open, and spread with butter, honey, jam, vegemite, or whatever your choice of topping might be. Enjoy. 🙂

 

 

 

June 26: belated weekend update

2016/06/27 deej 0

It was a busy weekend (although a good one!) so I’m a day late with this post. Saturday we attended the Less is More festival and I presented on keeping bees, then we had a mid-winter gathering at my mum’s place and caught up with friends and family there – and ate far too much delicious lamb tagine and roasted sweet potato. Sunday we headed out to the swan valley for breakfast at the Margaret River Chocolate Factory (which does a very nice breakfast), and then a day at the Swan Valley Cuddly Animal Farm.

 

So many animals. Including Damara lambs, baby goats (and adult milking goats), guinea pigs, rabbits, chickens, pigeons, a baby deer (tame enough to eat grass from our hands and let us pet him), two foxes (not tame, in an enclosure away from bite-able fingers and also away from all the birds), pea-fowl, geese, cows, and a big white pony (horse) who was really quite friendly once he warmed up to us. It’s true – I’m still the same person who would sit perfectly still for half an hour at age 5 so that the semi-tame rabbits at the local rabbit farm would come and eat greens out of my hand, and needed to pat and feed every pony we saw. K was vastly amused to see me making friends with the horse at the Cuddly Animal Farm; he hasn’t really seen me around horses before.

 

Sunday afternoon and evening  we had some friends round for a movie night, because friends are important, and so are science fiction films. We watched the 1960 version of the Time Machine, and discussed how one might restart civilisation, and what three books one might take into that hypothetical future in order to do so. My selection is a good maths textbook (going form basics through to complex calculus and geometry), a new edition of one of those 70s homesteading books that shows how to build a house, fix a roof, plant a farm, spin, sew, make soap, etc., and a book of basic machines (things like the Open Source Ecology group are looking at, plus looms, spinning wheels, bicycles, and so forth), with Bill Mollison’s Permaculture Design Manual as a close fourth – but I’m interested in what other people would pick.

 

 

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